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Tips for a Scam-Free Holiday Season

Tue, 11/29/2022

What you nee​d to know:

  • Research charities before donating. The SC Secretary of State’s Charities webpage is a great place to start.

  • When shopping online, use websites that have a padlock icon and a URL beginning with “https:” instead of “http:”

  • Use credit cards instead of debit cards when shopping or donating, since laws limit your liability in fraudulent credit card transactions.​

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Last year, Americans donated an estimated $484 billion to charity, according to Indiana University's Lily Family School of Philanthropy and the Giving USA Institute. In South Carolina, taxpayers used their 2020 Individual Income Tax returns to donate more than $600,000 to 18 charities and other organizations.

Tis the season for holiday giving, which can come in the form of donations or presents. But cyber thieves also make it the season of risk for those who shop or donate online. Before you pull out your wallet this holiday season, the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR), the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA), and the South Carolina Secretary of State's Office offer some tips to make your giving and shopping safe and scam free.

For those donating to charities:

  • Ask for the name, mission, and location of the charity.
  • Ask how much of your donation will go to program services and how much will go to fundraising costs.
  • Be wary of solicitations that ask you to pay in cryptocurrency, prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfer, or bank transfer – Once it's in the hands of a scam artist, the money is gone and difficult to trace.
  • Don't give out personal information to someone soliciting a donation – Personal information can be as valuable as cash to a criminal, who may try to convince you to part with credit card or bank account data, phone numbers, addresses, and more. 
  • Research charities before donating – Go to the Secretary of State's website to see if the charity is registered. You can also call the Secretary of State's public charities helpline, 803-734-1790. If you have any concerns about a charity, notify the Secretary of State's Office and use their form to file a confidential complaint.
  • Be careful of charities that pressure you to donate quickly – Ask any cold-caller to send you information about the charity through the mail.

For those shopping online, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), makes these recommendations:

  • Do business with reputable vendors – Before providing any personal or financial information, make sure that you are interacting with a reputable, established business. Some attackers may try to trick you by creating malicious websites that appear to be legitimate, so pick online stores that you already trust or have previously visited before providing any personal or financial information.
  • Make sure your information is being encrypted – Look for a closed padlock icon and Uniform Resource Locator (URL) that begins with "https:" instead of "http:". Use unique, strong passwords for each of your accounts and multi-factor authentication where possible to verify your identity. Keep your software up to date.
  • Beware of phishing emails – Some cyber thieves may pose as retailers in emails. Don't click on links or download attachments unless you are sure where the email came from.
  • Use a credit card – There are laws to limit your liability for fraudulent credit card charges, but you may not have the same level of protection for your debit cards. Keep a record of your purchases and copies of confirmation pages, and compare them to your bank statements. If there is a discrepancy, report it immediately.
  • Check privacy policies – Before providing personal or financial information, check the website's privacy policy. Make sure you understand how your information will be stored and used.

Learn More

Visit the South Carolina Secretary of State's Charities webpage, the Federal Trade Commission's Shopping and Donating webpage, and the SCDOR's Security Center, and download SCDCA's free scam guide "Ditch the Pitch."